Backroads of the Chiang Dao hills.

Steve Merchant

Dec 11, 2009
As you may have guessed by now I am not one for the sweeping highways and high speed biking, I came too late to the party, too old and just not a natural rider. But I like travel, the freedom I get from the bike and slow journeys with lots of looking around. A week ago I did part of this trip with Brian Sage and then yesterday added a bit more and did it in reverse purely because I live in Tha Ton. As a man with no modern technological gadgets I picked the route out on Googlemaps but made better effort to ensure it was hard surface road and not dirt. Much of the road is a little worn and being the wet season there was mud left from coffee plantation trucks, some sand, algae and moss in the dark, dank spots and just a few places with a little mudslide. Nothing too serious just not a place to be hoping for 5th gear and fast travel.
Sepr 18 ride..jpg

Its a narrow lane off the 118 and being dual carriageway its accessed from the south so I did the U-turn 1 kms down and turned left.

Its typical North Thai mix of housing and small farms, flat at this point with a decent road in poured concrete. There was one left turn to a religious site but it was quite obvious straight on was for a couple of kms. The first big junction had me in a quandary, almost all the places named (in Thai) were to the right but the photo on the board with a white border was on my route but placed slap in the middle.

I chose wrong and went right which gave me a pleasant few kms to Treehouse Hideaway (shown in picture) which I wanted to see anyway and then a backtrack and up the lane to the left. It was a good road down here, some small farms, flat at first and then a steady climb. There was an obvious attempt to get local tourism which I assume succeeded pre-Covid and it wasn't easy to tell what was a pretty rich mans house and which was a homestay for paying clients. Quite a bit of wealth has obviously strayed this way, it wasn't all deprivation. There are still a few huge Dipterocarp trees in the forest and as I got further up the mountain the 'jungle' effect got more obvious.

It was up here when getting off to take a photo that I realised the road was actually quite slick from the dark conditions and I took it even slower. The lane was steep, narrow and in one village there was work in process to concrete in a drain on the left side. Still a few places trying to attract tourists but under present conditions all locked up and empty. Rather sad to see.

A couple of organic coffee plantations up here and at the top of this first ridge I certainly felt I was high up in the hills. The only real danger I'd faced at this point was oncoming pick-ups. The road was steep and narrow, the surface slippery and a couple of vehicles coming down didn't leave me an awful lot of room. I was quite happy to be in 2cnd gear at most. My first stop of curiosity was the World Pillar Shrine, shown on Googlemaps and obviously a sight of prestige for the man who built it.

I was off the bike and walking around when I was accosted by the man who looked sort of monkly but not fully, who asked me first if I spoke Thai and then broke into fluent, unaccented English. He was holding a massage course for local women and quite humbly told me he was the best practitioner of massage in Thailand, had spent 5 years up here overseeing the building and had two nice cars parked in the back. He also had a machine which he modestly suggested he could turn on and the rain would stop immediately. Was I impressed? Sure.
Up here on the top of the ridges there was a little more mudslip, some cracked and broken concrete slabs and the need for just a little mote attention. There were a few expensive and pretty houses, maybe coffee/tea plantation owners or perhaps tourist rental, it was hard to tell because all were deserted.
Nearing the Raming tea I came through a decent sized village with a school, a few more tea terraces and then arrived at my breakpoint, the Raming cafe no 148.

It was here I managed to write myself into the book of famous farang f-ck ups, not hard for a man of my reputation. Bought an expensive coffee, walked over to the edge of the garden to see the view and have a look at the road layout, brought hand with coffee to my mouth thus obliterating my view of the ground and walked straight into a solid steel pipe, upright in the ground, I assume for dry season watering. My foot never moved an inch, the rest of me travelled 5foot and I hit the ground with a crunch, coffee all over the place, a cut mouth and a bruised shin. I got back on my bike, maybe safer there than I am on my feet and left them all laughing. Just below the tea factory and cafe is a big Lahu village surrounded by tea and coffee and looks quite prosperous.


The big surprise as told to Brian and myself by his friend along the Mae Taeng is the very expensive temple being built out here in the forest, middle of nowhere and without much of a local congregation. A big expensive place, maybe dedicated to forest meditation is undergoing construction that has no doubt taken years and will surely take a few more.

After the temple its a short run till you get to the switchback, another place you would prefer not to find pick-ups coming at you. Its been newly finished and is a bit steep but just wide enough as I found to my horror when a Lahu coming the other way demonstrated typical Thai driving.

After that you can tell you are getting closer to humanity as the amount of litter roadside picks up and you wonder just who has spread their bottles, bags and packets over so much road. Not long before exit on the 107 there is a pretty big project that looks like a company guest house or holiday area, complete with a pool.

Then its a flat road, wide enough for trucks, a couple of villages with local temples and an exit onto the 107 which i photographed in case anyone wants to do this the other way round.

Take no notice of Googles route timing, it took me maybe 3 1/2 hours, at my pretty slow pace with time only to take pictures and look around. The flying fall put me off lunch so I didn't waste time with any eating, just cleaning up and rubbing my bruises. Apart from that it was a lovely trip.


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Staff member
Jan 16, 2003
Chiang Khong
Great stuff Steve. That's a fantastic area in there for exploring all right.

Check out these two old trips for more ideas around there

You should also check out the loop to the east of Chiang Dao Steve.
Go in off R1150 & come out by Sop Khap I think it is called.